Are you ready for March Madness? We sure are. But in case you’re still scrambling with your bracket and what to know before the Big Dance, we’ve got you covered.
And to get in on the fun, join The Prompt’s bracket challenge! The winner gets to pick our next writing prompt AND commission a writer to complete a piece in his/her honor. Pretty sophisticated trophy, if you ask us.
Analysis by MK McWeeney
Virginia Cavaliers. A potential Sweet 16 matchup between number 1 overall seed Virginia and number 4-seed Arizona makes this decision significantly more difficult. If both teams advance to the Sweet 16, I believe this year’s NCAA champion will come from this region. That being said, I have the ‘Hoos advancing to the Final Four, via the South. Defense wins championships, right?
Davidson Wildcats. Just because Steph Curry isn’t on this Wildcats squad does not mean this team isn’t dangerous. The Wildcats drew a tough first round matchup in the Calipari-led Kentucky Wildcats, who are trending upward as of late, but don’t count out Bob McKillop.
Gary Clark of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Clark is a bruiser down low. Let him get in a groove and Cincinnati is all but guaranteed an Elite Eight berth. Fun fact: If you watch Gary Clark while listening to Gary Clark Jr, you will unlock a secret passage right to the final four!
We get a game for the ages in a Virginia-Arizona Sweet 16 clash. PAC-12 Player of the Year and projected lottery pick DeAndre Ayton versus ACC Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Wilkins might be the best matchup of the tournament if we are lucky enough to see this game.
Don’t forget in the preseason, Arizona was ranked third in the country with 18 votes for preseason #1 rank. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, were not even ranked in the top 25. These teams trended in opposite directions as the year went on, but both finished strong as champions of their respective leagues. We deserve to see this matchup so early in the tournament; it’s all about the MADNESS!
There are two storylines in the South that will give fans a rooting interest outside of basketball. One, the Texas Longhorns. This team has battled much more than the typical college team. Sophomore Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia in January, sending a shockwave through the college basketball community. Texas lived on the bubble for the last half of the season, battling to keep their hopes alive. With Mo Bamba back and healthy after missing four of the final five games of the season, this team has the potential to win a couple games.
Two, Wright State. Last year, Ryan Custer suffered spinal cord injury in a freak accident leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Despite his injury, Custer remained a member of the team and was on the sidelines when the Raiders punched their ticket to the big dance for the first time since 2007. Who doesn’t love an underdog?
What a moment.
Wright State celebrates its Horizon League championship with teammate Ryan Custer, who suffered a critical spinal cord injury last year. pic.twitter.com/o7z2K7cO87
— ESPN (@espn) March 7, 2018
Analysis by Monica McNutt
University of North Carolina Tar Heels. One person, two words, three Final Fours —Joel Berry. The senior point guard is looking to get to his third consecutive Final Four and is arguably the most experienced guard in the tourney. As we all know, guards make the tournament go-round (cc why Oklahoma got in). Roy’s guys finished in a four-way tie for third in the ACC, and are one of nine representatives from the conference.
Last year I wrote about how the ACC was overblown, but UNC was still the last team standing. This year the ACC was appropriately blown, with the second best conference RPI, and as the Tar Heels defense settle in, the boys in Carolina blue look poised to defend their title. While Berry is head of the monster, he’s flanked by experience and length in Luke Maye, Theo Pinson, and Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson.
Providence. Ed Cooley has been coaching his butt off with the Friars, so much so that Coach Cooley literally split his pants and kept on moving. They were poised to take down taking Villanova to overtime in the Big East title game, after taking down the top-seeded Xavier in OT the night before.
Their starting five spreads the scoring, and they all have the green light to attack the paint. This team is killer off the bounce. They’re riding high, feeling good about themselves, and taking great momentum into the tourney.
Meet Rob Gray, Jr. of the Houston Cougars. We’ve got a thing for guards that carry their teams in the Big Dance, right? It the Cougs make a run you’ll know that name.
Ohio State advancing after missing the dance two years in a row and the NIT last year. The Buckeyes finished the season on a little bit of a sour note, but this is exactly why they’re poised to be a surprise. For the record, not ONE SINGLE SOUL probably expected this season out of the Buckeyes. Essentially they’re still playing with house money and Chris Holtmann is a wizard. If you didn’t already know this from his days at Butler, you definitely know it now.
This scenario also deserves a mention, as eloquently laid out by Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune. It’d be a real treat to see Brian Dutcher and San Diego State facing Michigan in the second round. Why is this intriguing? Dutcher used to be an assistant at UM in a past life, during an era you might remember as the Fab Five.
Does this count? Two historically black college teams meeting! Yes, the matchup between NC Central and Texas Southern is in the First Four, but I promise the ambience at the game will be fire. If y’all don’t know about HBCU bands and dancers/cheerleaders, you’re about to find out. YES FOR THE CULTURE. While part of me didn’t want two black teams pitted against each other at least this way one has to advance.
Analysis by Josh Bard
East mode activated! Welcome to the East where it’s Villanova, Purdue, and everyone else.
In a bracket you have to make 63 decisions, and most of them are perplexing shots in the dark. How good is this year’s Stephen F. Austin team? Can Murray State handle a stifling press? Luckily, for those of us that don’t snort college basketball through $100 bills given to us by boosters, there are also some easy decisions. Villanova is one of those. It’s never sexy to pick a 1-seed win the region, but like wearing sunscreen or eating vegetables, it’s the smart, responsible thing to do. Villanova is very very good at basketball. They can shoot, they can rebound, they are experienced and well-coached. They are the only team in the nation with six players averaging 10 or more per game. You can overthink 8s versus 9s all you want, but don’t overthink Villanova.
You want an East side upset special to wow your coworkers and friends? Try Stephen F. Austin over Texas Tech. SFA has been in the tournament in three of the last four years and notched upsets in two of them. They are not shy in the Big Dance, and their full court press will make things very tough for a Texas Tech team that lost two of three matchups to a similarly styled West Virginia team.
Collin Sexton of Alabama is potentially the most electric player in the country. However I’ve never been a superstar offense type of guy.
I hope you like defense as much as I do. If so, you will love Sagaba Konate of West Virginia. His name is fun to say! SAG-uh-bah kuh-NOT-ay! And when he is on the floor the other team kuh-NOT-ay score in the lane. He ended the year with the most blocked shots for a player in a major conference and he doesn’t just block shots, he destroys worlds. Check out this highlight reel, all from one game against Kansas.
A Butler run deep into the tournament, would be a great national story. The back-to-back Butler championship losses under Brad Stevens started this decade. Seven years and three head coaches later, former player LaVall Jordan has the team back in sweetheart, upset territory, where we learned to love them. If Butler went on a run, it would mean knocking off Purdue, a team full of future pros who spent a chunk of the year in the top 3 AP Poll.
At some point, isn’t it strange that the SEC is so good (too good, really) at college football but not overwhelmingly good in college basketball? The East region has three SEC teams in Alabama (9), Florida (6), and Arkansas (7), all of whom could be upset in the first round. It feels like eons ago that Alabama beat Georgia in the national championship of football.
Analysis by Gavin Lippman
While Duke has the most talented team in the bracket, they are also one of the most inconsistent. In March, you need consistency & toughness at both ends of the floor, you need experienced leaders, you need a good set of guards and you need veteran coaching. Enter the third seeded Michigan State Spartans, winners of the Big Ten regular season title. This team is a trademark Michigan State team: balanced scoring on offense and tenacious on defense, solid rebounding, and veteran leadership. Plus they have a coach in Tom Izzo who knows what it takes to make it to the Final Four. And they’ve even thrown some people off their tracks after their recent Big Ten tournament loss to Michigan. For those reasons, I like the Michigan State Spartans to advance from the Midwest region and head to the Final Four in San Antonio.
Kansas won its 14th straight Big 12 regular season championship AND its tournament title on Saturday to earn the number 1 seed in the Midwest. While the team’s regular season record has been impressive, since 2012, Kansas has not made it back to the Final Four, losing as a 1- or 2-seed in each of the past five seasons. On the strength of their current form, many will pencil them into the Final Four, but to the surprise of those many Kansas will not make it out of the first weekend of the tournament.
In a region loaded with one-and-done and potential lottery picks, I like Miles Bridges of Michigan State to become a household name over the next few weeks. A potential lottery pick last year, he surprisingly returned to Michigan State for his sophomore season and another shot at a national championship. He will have to play a huge role if the Spartans are going to make a deep tourney run.
Who can forget 10 years ago, when young Steph Curry took the Davidson Wildcats into the NCAA tournament as a 10-seed, where he led his squad to upsets over Gonzaga and Georgetown in the first weekend. That Davidson team came one shot away from one of the more unlikelier Final Four appearances in recent history.
Do you like coincidences? Because Oklahoma’s Trae Young has had an up-and-down season to say the least. In the first half of the season, he led Oklahoma into the top five, with his play drawing comparisons to Steph Curry. However, Young and Oklahoma struggled the second half of the year, barely scraping into the tournament. Now, Oklahoma will open the tournament as the 10-seed, against Rhode Island. If they get past the Rams, the Sooners face a likely matchup versus a Duke team who has an on-again off-again relationship with defense. If Trae Young channels Steph Curry, these Oklahoma games will be must-see TV for the rest of the tournament.
Known for its steaks and the Peyton Manning audible call, Omaha, Nebraska will be hosting the regional semi-finals and finals of the NCAA tournament for the first time. I was a bit surprised that Omaha was chosen as a regional host, as the NCAA tends to select sites that are home to NBA teams.
Yet Omaha is no stranger to hosting college teams, as the College World Series takes place at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park each year. I find it interesting that this city on the river will soon be hosting an eclectic mix of NBA scouts, executives, and some of the most passionate fan bases in college basketball. And having recently driven through Omaha on a road trip (quaint downtown and good restaurant scene!), I’m curious to see which team the locals will adopt!